Who are you?
My name is Yvonne Northrop, I am married to my American husband Jim. We have lived in many different parts of the world during our long marriage. Our young married life was spent in the USA, where at the time, life was full of adventure and times were much easier than today.We lived in the suburbs of London and have to admit the stresses were overwhelming at times. We had just entered our sixties when France suddenly appeared on our horizon. We were very young for our ages and felt we would always stay that way. However, at sixty we are facing more challenging years ahead and this we did not think about well enough.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
Personally, I did not want to move to France, my husband got the idea from a BBC4 programme about life in Brittany. I swear he rather “ran away” from the UK. That is the one mistake people make and often regret. They do not do thorough research nor have they spent enough time in France to know the language and have little knowledge of the culture. A grave mistake for most that do not treat a move abroad as a serious life challenge.
What challenges did you face during the move?
We came in 2006 before the financial crash and all appeared rosy at the time. The only challenge we faced at the time was finding a good home. Pre 2008, people certainly did not think as they do today. There was more of a devil may care attitude to life.
At the time there were few online sites listing homes. We made the worst possible choice at the time, using a “home finder” – that is an untrained person who could speak French and handle the paperwork. These people have no idea of location nor are able to check out the area in a way a professional might do. Of course with hardly any French, we were not able to proceed properly and really were at the mercy of the “house finder” along with the local notaire. Looking back I think we must have been mad! We made every mistake in the book. We could write a book on how not to survive in France. Oddly enough we had lived abroad much of our lives, although always in English speaking countries.
How did you find somewhere to live?
Through an ex-school teacher come house finder/translator. She had no idea of the real needs of her “clients.” She didn’t charge much but we paid for the blunders in many other ways. I would advise people to do thorough research before ever contemplating a move, also to contact others living in France via Facebook. Put questions directly to them. People are ever ready to be helpful. At least, I find they are.
Are there many other expats in your area?
No, not now. Most moved years ago. This is rural France where not much is on offer. It once did attract many British but not now. I think people are getting wise to where the better places to live are located. They also are more savvy on where they want to spend their hard earned money location wise. I would advise everyone to head for the “hot spots” – do not buy away from towns. There is no work in rural France, and medical services suffer. I have two cataracts but I have been waiting over 4 months for an appointment to see an eye specialist. That is way too long. I had my eye examination in the UK. But of course I would have to pay privately there to have cataracts removed.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
We had a good neighbour when we first arrived. She made us most welcome. Sadly she died. The entire area changed after our arrival. Our once quiet cul de sac or chemin, with its relaxed walkways to the Chateau Tronjoli, was built upon. (We were not told of this plan by the notaire.) The other three house owners in our area retreated and one couple moved away. We really do not have neighbours now.
What do you like about life where you are?
We enjoy most of the towns in Brittany. I must say Quimper is a beautiful cites and so is Morlaix. Yes, Brittany definitely has its good areas. However, we are trying to sell now and that takes up so much of our time. We are ever engaging with agents on and offline. I think we have had over 30 so far, just like most others who are trying to sell. Houses can take years to sell.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
There is definitely a difference since the financial crash for all of us. Money is tight. We notice in Brittany there are so many closed shops. Life at times seems depressing. Villages without Maison de la Presse etc. I don’t like to see the decline that is now part of life in rural France. It is very depressing in winter too.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
The lack of happy people. It is very dire here. People do not smile as often and appear stern. I am sure it is the French way but I notice the reserved attitude in people. I am told because the area is poor. The only work is in factories or on farms.
What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
The pastries and gateaux are not only beautiful but very tasty. In the larger towns there are some really good restaurants.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
The reason I agreed to write this is I want to warn people of retirement age to think long and hard before you move away from familiar surroundings. You may be healthy today but as you age, good health is never guaranteed. My husband had a knee problem before he came here. He fractured his leg again in the garden during 2011. Sadly it never really healed. We were faced with huge costs for garden duties and mowing that we struggle to meet. Also, when you move away from your children, you just might consider how they feel. Are you actually putting a huge strain on them from moving away? Perhaps they too have busy lives that keep them from visiting. It is asking a bit much for them to come to your aid when you have chosen to live in another country. Do think hard before you burden your children with your decision to move to a foreign country.
What are your plans for the future?
We need to sell our beautiful house and move back to the UK. We will never be able to afford to live as we once did. There will be no more lovely homes because we lost out here. (House prices have not increased or even stayed the same in ten years! They have been in decline for years.) I suppose we will end up in a two bedroom bungalow somewhere in middle England. For us we just want our life back with the lifestyle that we are more accustomed to. Sadly, the UK has also changed. However, staying here is not an option.
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